Every week, or every other week, I check on the bees. It is not good to disturb them too much: opening the hive, blasting them with smoke and moving the combs around throws off their balance and they take hours or even a day before they get back to normal.
But it’s important to check them as well. Honey bees are somewhere between wild and domesticated animals. At this point, colonies would still survive without humans, but in far fewer numbers then we have now. We keepers help bees survive by providing them with proper shelter, food if they are hungry and medicines against pests and diseases. The bees provide us with honey, pollination, and for many of us, a sense of enjoyment, satisfaction, and a connection with nature.
The first thing I do when I get to the hives is watch the bees fly. It is possible to understand almost everything by watching the bees fly in and out of the entrance. One can see the pollen they are gathering, if they are full of nectar, if they are sick, weak or hungry all by watching the activity at the front of the hives and comparing it with others. This skill takes much patience but with years of experience slowly these small details reveal themselves.
To get a better understanding of the colony, I need to open the hive. I put on my veil, hive tool and a spray bottle filled with water. If they bees are feeling testy or I need to work at a fast pace (bees prefer slow and calm movements), sometimes I use a smoker which calms the bees, but most often I go without. When the roof is off, the bees buzz on the top bars and some fly up to check out the intruder. I lever out a comb and hold it to the light. Are there eggs? This is the first question to answer. I look at the bottom of some cells for a tiny white speck, like a grain of rice. If there, it means that a queen is present. The queen is the heart of the colony. If I don’t see eggs, it means the queen has somehow died and hive is in deep trouble. Drastic action needs to be taken in order for it to survive.
After finding eggs, I do a general inspection of the hive. Do the bees look healthy? How is the pattern of the brood? How does the larva look Does it have enough food? Is there pollen? There are a thousand things to look at on the comb, and I look through several more, reading each one like a book in an attempt to understand the hive’s story. Once I get enough information, and take action if needed, I put the combs back together, slowly as not to accidentally crush the queen, and then put the lid back on. Then onto the next hive.